New Department of the Treasury proposal and Senate Bill 676 Introduced to Limit Access to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File

Contact Tom Berger if you are an advocate, attorney or professional with insurer relationships that can benefit from our shared expertise.

Requirements for using the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (SSA DMF) to review insurer books and records in order to identify deceased insureds and better manage the claims and reporting process have been a hot topic recently.  Now, there may be new challenges based on a report issued earlier this month detailing the US Department of the Treasury’s fiscal 2014 revenue proposals, along with Senate Bill 676 which both seek to place additional restrictions on access to the DMF.

The Treasury Department classifies DMF users into three categories 1) Those with time sensitive needs required for Fraud Prevention, such as pension administrators who use DMF data to terminate payments; 2) Those with non-time-sensitive needs, such as genealogy research; and 3) Those who use the DMF for illegitimate purposes, including identity thieves who steal the names and SSNs of recent decedents for tax fraud.

Specifically, their proposal would restrict immediate access to the DMF only to those users who legitimately need the information for fraud prevention purposes and to delay the release of the DMF for three years to all other users.  One could argue that this would include allowing insurers to utilize the SSA DMF to terminate annuity payments that are being fraudulently cashed on behalf of those who have since passed away.  At that same time, one could make the case that using the SSA DMF to identify insured decedents for the purpose of determining if a benefit is due would NOT fall into the definition of ‘fraud prevention’ and would therefore be subject to the proposed waiting period.

Regardless, in our opinion, it would be fair to assume that given the recent state statutes, along with the audit activity, market conduct exams, and Regulatory Settlement Agreements that the insurance industry will be deemed to have a legitimate-use reason to be permitted timely access to the SSA DMF.  In line with this, on April 9th, 2013, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced Senate Bill 676 titled ‘Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2013’.  This bill discusses the potential delay of access to DMF death records for up to three years unless the non-governmental person or entity has successfully completed a Certification Program.  Senator Nelson’s bill includes language paving the way for broader certification of insurers by saying that “such access will facilitate timely and proper administration by such person of an insurance policy or benefit program”.  The bill also calls for the introduction of new fees to offset the costs to administer the certification program.  While the extent of these fees have not yet been determined, it seems inevitable that it will result in yet another layer of expense that insurers must bear as part of the mandated compliance process.

As part of research need to quantity the impact of what this could mean if the industry was subject to a 3-year waiting period, Cross Country Computer examined all DMF transactions that were posted by the SSA DMF from January 1st through April 12th of 2013.  98% of those records showed a date of death within one year of the date of inclusion on the weekly update file.   Further, ~85% of death transactions become available within just 30 days of the stated date of death.  Only a fraction of a percent apply to individuals that either have no reported date of death, or a date of death greater than one year ago.  The detailed statistics are presented below:

 

Time to Posting

Unique Count

Percent

Cumulative Count

Cumulative %

0 Days

                         60

0.01%

                                  60

0.01%

1 Week

               158,733

28.97%

                       158,793

28.98%

2 Weeks

               187,516

34.22%

                       346,309

63.20%

3 Weeks

                 77,548

14.15%

                       423,857

77.35%

1 month

                 41,236

7.53%

                       465,093

84.87%

45 Days

                 30,511

5.57%

                       495,604

90.44%

3 months

                 29,270

5.34%

                       524,874

95.78%

6 months

                   9,116

1.66%

                       533,990

97.45%

1 Year

                   3,440

0.63%

                       537,430

98.08%

1 year +

                   7,229

1.32%

                       544,659

99.39%

No DOD

                   3,316

0.61%

                       547,975

100.00%

Total

               547,975

100.00%

                       547,975

100.00%

These figures clearly demonstrate that limiting an insurer’s timely access to the SSA DMF would have a material and negative impact on their ability to either identify fraudulent annuitant recipients, or to begin the research and claims process for insured individuals that have recently passed away.

We expect to include other details regarding the quality and timeliness of updates to the SSA DMF in a future blog.

For those who are interested, please see below for specific excerpts from the Treasury proposal and Senate Bill 676.  For more details or to receive a copy of either of these documents, please contact Tom Berger (TBerger@CrossCountryComputer.com).

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 APPENDIX

Department of the Treasury Proposal

 “RESTRICT ACCESS TO THE DEATH MASTER FILE (DMF)…

Current Law

The DMF is a list of deceased individuals maintained by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that is updated weekly. SSA created the DMF in response to a 1980 consent judgment that requires SSA to provide certain personally identifiable information about deceased individuals under the Freedom of Information Act. The DMF contains the full name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, date of death, and the county, state, and zip code of the last address on record for decedents. This information is publicly available and, pursuant to the consent judgment, released weekly by SSA, and many websites publish the information included on the DMF free or for a nominal fee. Some DMF users need immediate access to the DMF for fraud prevention purposes, such as pension administrators who use DMF data to terminate payments. Others use the information for purposes that are not time-sensitive, such as genealogy research. A third group, however, uses the DMF for illegitimate purposes, including identity thieves who use the DMF to steal the names and SSNs of recent decedents, which information identity thieves then use to file fraudulent tax returns.

Reasons for Change

Refund-fraud related identity theft has grown exponentially in recent years. Fraudulent tax returns using a decedent’s identifying information are difficult to detect before improper refunds are paid, because the Internal Revenue Service may not discover that identity theft has occurred until a surviving family member files an income tax return claiming the decedent as a dependent or files the decedent’s final income tax return.

Restricting immediate access to those users with a legitimate fraud prevention purpose while delaying the release for other users protects the privacy interests of decedents, reduces opportunities for identity theft, and restricts information sources used to file fraudulent tax returns while still making the information on the DMF available to users who have a legitimate need for the information.

Proposal

The proposal would restrict immediate access to the DMF to those users who legitimately need the information for fraud prevention purposes and to delay the release of the DMF for three years to all other users.

The proposal would be effective upon enactment.”

Senate Bill 676

“(2) CERTIFICATION.—A person shall not be certified nor remain certified under the program established under paragraph (1) unless—

(A) the Secretary of Commerce determines that access to the information described in subsection (b) is appropriate because—

(i) such person has a legitimate interest in preventing fraud or unauthorized financial transactions,

(ii) such access will facilitate compliance by such person with an applicable law, regulation, court order, or fiduciary duty,

(iii) such access will facilitate timely and proper administration by such person of an insurance policy or benefit program, or

(iv) such person is subject to disclosure requirements under section 502 of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (15 U.S.C.6802), section 620 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681r), or any other Federal statute that the Secretary determines, following notice and comment rulemaking, provides sufficient protection against improper disclosure of information described in subsection (b), and

(B) the Secretary of Commerce verifies that such person has facilities and procedures in place to safeguard such information, and experience in maintaining the confidentiality, security, and appropriate use of such information.

(3) FEES. – The Secretary of Commerce shall establish under section 9701 of title 31, United States Code, for the charge of fees sufficient to cover all costs associated with evaluating applications for certification and auditing, inspecting, and monitoring certified persons under the program.”

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About Tom Berger

Thomas Berger is Chief Executive Officer of Cross Country Computer. Tom joined Cross Country in 1991 and acquired the company in 1996. During his tenure, Tom has overseen the debt-free growth of CCC and has been instrumental in strengthening the company’s infrastructure while simultaneously developing new services and diversifying into new business lines. Tom has personally developed the vision and design specifications for many of Cross Country’s systems, including TBeaut and CBeaut, our proprietary title and company name standardization products. In addition, Tom holds the patent for our Abandoned Property Escheat Assignment & Reporting System (APEARS™). Tom has served two terms as Treasurer of the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization (UPPO) as well as two years as Secretary of the Unclaimed Property Committee within the Securities Transfer Association. He assisted in the creation of a white paper designed to educate the holder community about unclaimed property review and reporting practices. Tom has spoken frequently at Unclaimed Property conferences and was honored with the 2005 Unclaimed Property Holders Liaison Council’s (UPHLC) President’s Award. Tom is also an active member in numerous direct marketing related organizations including the Direct Marketing Association of Long Island, where, in 2012, he was selected as one of three inductees into the DMALI Hall of Fame. He is also a lifetime member of MENSA, the international High IQ society. Tom holds a BS degree in Management and Marketing from the Rochester Institute of Technology and has received military security clearance to oversee our government accounts.
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